Air Miles flies high with BI

LAS VEGAS – For some Canadian companies the road to business intelligence adoption is often hampered by a bad case of putting the marketing plan cart before the data horse.

“The marketing plan should be data analysis driven, not the other way around,” according to MaryLene Vachon, associate director of market intelligence and statistics for Loyalty Management Group Canada Inc.‘s Air Miles Rewards Program.

“Loyalty Management Group works with its clients to gather data and drive analytics to better plan their future strategy,” Vachon said.

Deployment of BI tools is increasing but despite the benefits and opportunities they offer some companies remain hesitant, she added.

Loyalty Management operates a customer loyalty rewards program to promote retail and services throughout Canada. Its Air Miles program allows consumers to collect air miles that can be exchange for tickets on a number of air carriers. Air miles can also be used to obtain movie and sporting events tickets, hotel rooms and other merchandise. The company is a subsidiary of credit and transaction services giant Alliance Systems.

Part of the services that Loyalty Management offers its member vendors is data mining and analysis using BI tools developed by SAS Institute Inc., a business intelligence and analytical software firm based in Cary, North Carolina. Vachon was one of the attendees in the recent SAS Premier Business Leadership Series convention in Las Vegas.

Vachon said that on a daily basis most companies are inundated with large amounts of customer related information. For instance, Loyalty Group has more than nine million active collectors (Air Miles card holders). “Each swipe of a card represents transaction data.”

Using data mining and analytics applications, Loyalty Management Group is able provide its sponsors with customer segmentation analysis and predictive models that can provide marketers with a clearer picture of what their customers want of how their marketing campaigns are performing.

“We can help them determine which type of customers to target with a specific offering of pinpoint the geographical location of a desired demographic group,” Vachon saikd.

Despite these advantages, a lot of companies lose out on the opportunity because of their need to focus on other priorities and a lack familiarity with BI technology, she said.

Bias against BI tools is largely a “mindset” issue according to Thomas Davenport, director of research and professor of IT and management at Babson Executive Education in Babson Park, Mass.

“You’re either a quantitative manager, or you’re not,” he said.

Some corporate executives are receptive to the idea of using BI tool and others are simply repelled by it.

The attitude, Vachon said, is independent of industry or business size.

Sometimes resistance is indicative of lack of knowledge about the product or a result of having different priorities or business focus.

Vendors or service providers who are offering BI products to customers can counter this attitude by approaching the situation in several ways.

Davenport suggests, vendors identity an executive level officer in the company who is open to the idea of BI tools. “Find someone who can be your partner in selling the goods.”

He said the person need not be a top decision maker but could be someone whose department might stand to benefit from receiving the reports and predictive models generated by the tools.

Failing to find top tier personnel, vendors can also rely on establishing “long lasting relationships” across the organization with executive hopefuls.

“It’s long range, but if you can establish a working relationship with a promising manager the results could be rewarding when that person ascends to a higher position,” Davenport said.

He also suggest presenting prospective clients with small BI pilot projects or low scale experiments that provide positive results.

Numbers and measurable results are very important, says Vachon.

Loyalty Management Group often present projections backed by successful case studies to prospective sponsors.

“Even if executives are focused on other matters, a healthy bottom line can always change their minds.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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